PORTLAND, Maine -- Maine's attorney general said Tuesday that she has sued a protester who she says yelled so loudly outside a Planned Parenthood facility that he disrupted health care services there.
Attorney General Janet Mills filed the complaint against Brian Ingalls, 26, under the state's civil rights act. Mills said he violated the rights of patients at the Portland facility on Oct. 23 when the sound of his voice directed to the second floor disrupted counseling sessions between staff and patients.
A police officer warned Ingalls, a frequent protester outside the clinic, to stop yelling so loudly, but he did not, the complaint said. Mills said that Ingalls had the right to protest but that the Maine Civil Rights Act makes clear it's a violation to intentionally make noise at a volume that can be heard within a medical treatment facility.
"While protesters have every right to say anything they want in a public area in the vicinity of a medical facility, they are not permitted to disrupt another citizen's health care services," Mills said.
Mills' lawsuit asks the court to prevent him from coming within 50 feet of Planned Parenthood facilities and order him to pay up to $5,000 for violating the Maine Civil Rights Act.
Ingalls, of Lisbon, declined to comment when reached by email. His attorney, Erin Kuenzig, said it's a "baseless lawsuit" filed to circumvent a U.S. Supreme Court ruling about protester buffer zones.
The lawsuit comes a few weeks after the city of Portland settled a lawsuit filed by anti-abortion activists against an ordinance that established a protest-free buffer zone around the clinic. A judgment approved by a federal judge said the city must pay more than $56,000 in legal fees as part of the settlement. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that similar buffer zones in Massachusetts violated free speech rights.
"They're trying to claim that it's some kind of safety concern that he was preaching the Bible on a public sidewalk," Kuenzig said. "Just completely meritless."
Planned Parenthood lauded Mills' move, saying it defends patients' rights to privacy and safety.
"No one should be forced to endure intimidation or harassment from strangers yelling at them while they are receiving critical medical information at their doctor's visit," said Nicole Clegg, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman.
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